Thousands of recent law school graduates will take their seats at the country’s elite law firms this fall, bearing crates of talent and shiny pedigrees. But having a successful career in the law requires more than just smarts and a great legal mind. We asked two veteran lawyers who have reached the top ranks of the profession to give advice to a new class of lawyers beginning their careers.
Mary Huser, Vice President, Deputy General Counsel at BlackBerry and Co-Chair of WILEF Northern California
- Marketing begins on day one. Keep in touch with your law school and college friends. Stay in touch with fellow associates when they leave. Meet people. No matter what you do in law, you will need a network.
- Be a net giver. Volunteer for pro bono work; join committees of the bar association and lead them; become involved in your community in ways that help others; get involved in politics; and give to charities. It will all come back to benefit you later in life in countless ways.
- Relax and be willing to make mistakes. Every mistake in the book has already been made. You will not be the first or last to make a mistake. Don’t try for perfection. It is impossible and will kill you. Do everything to the best of your ability, and you will succeed. Remember: partners are not smarter than you, they are just older and more experienced than you. Be honest about mistakes. Fix them immediately. Learn from them. Teach others so they don’t make the same ones.
- Be kind. Being a lawyer gives you tremendous power. Never abuse it. Treat everyone with whom you come into contact with respect. The cab driver, delivery person, paralegal and secretary are just like you—they are trying to make a living. Be kind and generous, and people will be kind and generous to you.
- Integrity is not negotiable. This last one is the most important. Without integrity, you cannot succeed. You will be faced with challenges that will test this concept, and it is critical that each and every time, you remember that integrity is your calling card. If you give it away, you cannot get it back. Stand up for what is right, ask questions and speak up if you see injustice.
Jessica Grant, Partner at Venable LLP in San Francisco and WILEF Global Advisory Board Member
- Strive for excellence. In everything you do, no matter how small or mundane the task, you will outshine others if you follow this rule. As the great leader John Gardner said, “Excellence is doing ordinary things extraordinarily well.”
- Engender trust. Law is a competitive business and clients seek lawyers who first and foremost produce high quality work product in a timely fashion, who respond quickly yet thoroughly to questions or requests, and who are willing to work hard. As Vince Lombardi said, “The only place success comes before work is in the dictionary.”
- Take initiative. Put yourself out there. Ask for more responsibility or challenging projects on cases and deals. You want to be viewed as the type of lawyer who is eventually capable of running a case or transaction, and the only way to do that is by taking on more responsibility and challenging tasks. So if you want to take depositions, ask to be put on a case where that is a possibility. If it doesn’t appear like you will ever get the requisite experience you need to evolve, then consider pro bono cases.
- Do not be afraid to state your opinion and stake out a position. We are paid for our opinions and counsel. Too often associates recite what is essentially a bench memorandum, stating each side’s position in a neutral fashion, instead of persuasively arguing why the client’s position is the correct one under the applicable facts or law of the case. And, if the client has some obstacles to success, do not be afraid to identify them and have a plan for how to neutralize or minimize their impact.
- Advocate for yourself. During annual reviews, identify several key contributions you have made over the course of the year and lay out a concise case for why you believe your contributions warrant an additional increase in base compensation or a higher bonus.